Which way now?

In the guest post below, foster carer Anne Sayer considers how fostering providers might react to the ‘the emerging professionalisation of foster carers’.

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In the seven years since I started fostering I have sensed a growing shift within the fostering world. It has been driven by the carers themselves as much as by the services they foster for. The one-size-fits-all parenting approaching of providing firm boundaries and routines coupled with rewards and consequences has been eroded by an approach that is responsive to a child’s individual needs and situation. And now, rather than simply meeting each other for coffee, carers are coming together in self-organised training sessions on everything from therapeutic parenting to compassion fatigue.

These carers are aware of the sheer hard work and relentlessness associated with some of the behaviours they encounter and manage. They know that at times fostering can take them to a dark place and that it will poke away at their insecurities and past experiences until it reveals something raw that they haven’t had to deal with in a very long time. And when that happens they want to be ready for it. More importantly they want their service to be ready to help them cope.

The current polarised debate about whether foster carers are professionals or should have union representation, be treated as workers with rights to holiday, sick pay and so on misses the point. Many carers have already self-professionalised in their approach, attitude and training. While social workers have started with a grounding in social care theory that they then flesh out through experience and practice, foster carers start with a smattering of theory, get chucked into the practice and then find themselves relentlessly looking for clarity via training, books and other sources to gain an understanding of and develop a positive response to some of the behaviours their children display.

We live in a world with increasing expectations of everyone who comes into contact with children – above all with those seen as particularly vulnerable. Issues around foster care are a growing area of strengthening research and study within higher educational institutions, among them the Rees Centre itself. Within schools, governors, who are volunteers after all, are expected to bring certain skills and perspectives and undertake continual professional development. We are now training taxi-drivers, hoteliers, and workers in the night-time economy to look out for the warning signs of child sexual exploitation.

At a time when social workers are facing rising caseloads and being urged to draw on “social capital” to support vulnerable adults and children we have a fostering workforce that wants to provide more support, a therapeutic approach and generally be better equipped to provide consistent care even when the going gets tough. And it will be the forward thinking fostering providers that recognise this emerging professionalisation of fostering – whether or not it becomes linked to pay and conditions. It will be those fostering providers that show that they are willing to nurture and develop its fostering workforce that will attract – and keep – high calibre carers. And it will be those providers who tell their carers that the going gets tough from time to time but they will support their carers all the way.

These providers will recognise the individual skills and expertise that carers bring with them and accrue over time. They will help and nurture those carers make the best use of their existing and emerging skills and knowledge. And in turn those carers will be better equipped and able to better care for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Those services that see professionalisation as a threat risk being left behind.

Anne Sayer runs the news and information website www.thisweekinfostering.com

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3 responses to “Which way now?”

  1. Cheryl Kimber says:

    Couldn’t have put it better myself Anne, it’s clear you talk from a place of understanding and passion for your roll.

    What I find particularly true is the insightful way you wrote how we do constantly stay curious we seek to find the answers as to why trauma affects children the way it does and like now searching for insight into the various articles and forums we search so that we can help/support in a foster carers latest quest to stay informed and one step ahead of the trauma .

    Do I see myself as professional ? Absolutely I am always educating myself , reflecting and questioning , I am curtious to my SW colleagues and fellow Foster Carers, I advocate strongly for my children and I have expectations of the corporate parent to do the same , hopefully the day will come in the not to dim and distant future when the rest of the team around the child will view Foster Carers as a valuable professional person who’s opinions do actually come from a place of knowledge , empathy and reflection. One can but hope .

  2. Melanie Carson says:

    As a new carer to the fostering ‘profession’ I am very grateful to the support given to me by other local carers as well as by my agency. I worry however. Fostering can be a very lonely occupation when you first start, especially, if like many carers you have given up work in order to be a full-time foster carer. It takes time to build secure networks of strong, similar minded ‘colleagues’ who can both support and challenge you. At the same time as building these networks, carers can find themselves ‘thrown in the deep-end’ with endless meetings with SWs, schools and therapists who they may not have encountered before. Carers know how important it is to use these meetings well to ensure the best outcomes for their foster child but I would argue they can feel helpless amongst this varied group of experienced professionals.
    One way to empower foster carers from day one would be to ‘professionalise’ the system for those carers who want to be more formally recognised. Recognise the skills that these carers bring with them to their new vocation and translate these in to ‘credits’ towards the formal certificate of foster care. Provide bespoke training to ‘fill the gaps’ that exist in their training portfolio. Provide ‘fostering experiences’ where they can learn alongside qualified foster carers. Review the fostering ‘standards’ to include a basic set that need to be met before qualification and an extension to these that must be met during the first year.
    Through this more in-depth introduction to foster care, carers would develop their support network quicker and this could reduce those initial feelings of isolation or helplessness.
    With the current deficit of carers, we must be mindful that not all carers want to become ‘professionals’ and we must acknowledge this too. But for those who are keen to support our most vulnerable or challenging young people, a formal qualification could be the answer. Professional foster carers would then become that group of colleagues who SWs could turn to, to support and challenge the next generation of carers.

  3. Anne Sayer says:

    Melanie – welcome to fostering – I recognise many of the sentiments that you are feeling. You say “thrown in the deep end” I described it once as “jumping off a cliff”. Fostering is so important yet there are very few opportunities to “shadow” and learn from other carers before we take that great leap. Your last line particularly resonates with me. I wish you all the best for a long and fulfilling fostering experience.

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